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Italian for Beginners
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
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What's the story?
Six lonely, insecure single people sign up for a beginning Italian class that changes their lives. Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen), a young, newly ordained minister, is shown around the church he will be taking over temporarily. The current minister has been suspended, and Andreas is a temporary fill-in. He moves into a hotel managed by Jorgen (Peter Gantzler), a shy man who has two big problems. He has not been able to have sex for four years, and he has been told to fire his best friend, Finn (Lars Kaalund), a handsome man who loves the sports restaurant he manages but cannot manage to be nice to any of the customers. All three of them end up in the Italian class, along with a beautiful hairdresser and a clumsy bakery shop cashier. The two women, who are both caring for sick, demanding, parents, find out that they have even more in common. And Jorgen learns enough Italian to ask the pretty Italian cook who works with Finn if she would like to come to the class -- even though she already speaks Italian. And then, like Shakespearean lovers running off to the woods, they leave Denmark to go to Venice, that most romantic of cities, to sort it all out.
Is it any good?
ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS is an endearing Danish movie that feels as much like a documentary as like a traditional romantic comedy. It is the kind of cute concept that Hollywood studios churn out regularly (see Liza Minnelli's "Stepping Out" for a pretty good example). But Schefberg has the courage to make the story messily un-formulaic. She trusts the audience enough to give us complicated characters coping with great loss and sadness. And here, in Dogme 95's stripped-down style, the camera puts us so close to the action that we feel we are watching a real story unfold. There are moments of great intimacy, as when the hairdresser allows her hand to caress the side of Finn's head as she washes his hair, and when Jorgen squats next to the swimming pool to ask advice about his problems with women as Andreas swims laps. And there are moments of great sweetness, as when the Italian cook steps away to consider a marriage proposal, to come racing back with her answer.
Scherfig said in an interview that there are no villains in her story, and that one difference between her story and most movies is that most movies made the audience want to be like the characters, while in her movie the characters want to be like the audience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the significance of Karen's failed attempts to cut Finn's hair, and his finally getting it done by someone else. What do we know about Andreas's late wife that makes us think his new romance will work? Why does it take a trip to Venice to allow the characters to finally take a chance? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of the Dogme 95 style? What kind of stories is it best for, and what kind would it do badly?
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